Nancy Moore, owner and founder of The Porch Company, located in Nashville, Tennessee, says, “Porches have always been popular, but with the advent of COVID-19, people started to consider them a necessity. People needed outdoor living space; they couldn’t stay inside all the time. So, that has really ballooned demand.”
Moore, who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, provided some insight on how to build a weather-resistant porch that also serves to perform well for the client. The first thing she says to focus on is function. “I don’t care how pretty it is. If it doesn’t function well, nobody’s going to use it.” This applies, she says, to everything from keeping the water off the porch to the roofline.
“Remodelers and home builders go to great efforts to make sure that water never penetrates to the inside, and so they don’t worry about water once they’ve sealed the outside. Porch construction is completely different: You’re going to get water, and even if you’ve got screened walls, you don’t have a way to ensure it doesn’t come in. The whole philosophy behind making it function and behind making it not deteriorate and make it a long-life structure is that you have to say, ‘Okay, the water’s gonna get in there, what am I going to do with it?’” The No.1 rule, Moore says, when building a porch is do your best to keep the water from coming in.
The best way to do that is with overhangs. Porches should have a minimum 12-inch overhang, though she says 2- to 3-foot overhangs are even better. However, Moore explains, this is only part of the solution. “You better have a gutter collecting that water and routing it where you want it to go. You don’t want water to just fall off the roof and then blow right back into the porch.”
In a blowing rain, water is inevitably going to get on the porch. The next most important aspect of a porch to focus on is, therefore, the flooring. Of the utmost importance when it comes to flooring, is ensuring there is a slope to the floor. “Everyone knows you never build a patio level,” Moore explains. “You’ve got to allow for drainage. And then, if you’ve got a slope going, you’ve got to pay attention to where that water is running. Does it have a way out? Don’t trap the water. Wood can get wet all day long so long as it doesn’t stay wet. It can get wet and dry out and it’ll be fine. So, don’t trap it.”
Another thing to consider is the direction the porch is facing. “Our prevailing winds come from the south and the west,” Moore says. “I think that’s pretty much true for the continental United States, but there could be locales where the wind is different. I would never do a gable roof facing south or west; I’m going to do an alternative roofline.”
The first alternative roofline Moore says she uses is the hip roof, which gives the porch the most protection and gives the owner gutters on all sides. “If a client desperately wants to do a gable roof, sometimes the solution we’ll do is put a lot of wood in that top. We may have some of it open, for some screening and to allow for lighting, but we’ll diminish the size that’s open. And then we’ll do what I call an ‘apron’ roof around the front, so you still end up with a gutter and not just get rain blown back onto the porch.”
“Keep the water off as best you can,” she summarizes. “And then to water that’s going to inevitably get on, make sure that you know how to get it off.”
Bigger Is Better
Moore says that while homeowners and clients come to her with their lists of desires, what tells her more about the aesthetic and practical direction the project is going to take is the house itself. Scale is especially important when considering how to build on a porch.
“When the client comes in, I’ll ask them who’s going to be using this porch; how many people at any one time; is it for dining or living or is it for one of the other functions? So, you get an idea of what’s appropriate based on the clients’ needs.” She adds, “The other thing I like to tell people is that nobody’s ever complained because I built the porch too large.”
When building a porch, she says, you’re comparing yourself more to the outside than you are to the interior. A 10-by-10 room might make a decent size room for four chairs. But that compared to the outdoors “looks like a postage stamp.” She always recommends going bigger than even anticipated for this reason. “If I do have to build a little bit of a smaller porch and still meet their needs, I’ll try to make it up with volume, making sure they’ve got enough height so that it doesn’t feel like you’re hemmed in.”
The most important architectural consideration is the roofline, and from there, picking out other architectural elements from the existing structure. Everything from sculpted graft tips and brackets to columns and colors should be taken into account.
Railings, like rooflines, can make or break the appearance and functionality of the porch. “One thing I see people do a lot that I think is a real mistake is that they’ll build a solid wall, 36 inches tall, and when you sit inside there you can hardly see over it, and you feel like you’re sitting inside a box. So, if you’re going to build a solid wall, it needs to be a low wall,” she says.
“I like to ask my clients: Are you trying to make the porch be architecturally interesting? Or are you more worried about sitting on your porch and looking into the yard and being able to see the landscape beyond? I ask them how important is it for you to see your backyard? If this is the back of the house, how visible is this to everyone else? Is anyone ever going to see the back of your house? Or do you live in a neighborhood where everybody can see everybody? They usually pretty quickly can answer that question about what’s important to them.”
As QR has reported before, outdoor kitchens are on the rise, with homeowners wanting to expand their living entertaining footprint into the outdoors. “[People] want to fully function outside. They don’t want to go back inside for anything, so more and more we’re building cabinets that look like kitchen cabinets, but they’re made out of PVC so they can be used outside.” Moore says she’s seeing a move away from clunky, stone monolithic cabinetry that has been popular for a while.
“Now, what I try to talk my clients out of, though it doesn’t always work, is I try to keep them from putting in wet sinks, because when you do that, there’s all kinds of plumbing issues. You’ve got to make sure it doesn’t freeze in the winter and have a cut off and a drain and more, and if the client doesn’t cut it off every winter, their pipes are going to burst.”
She says she recommends dry sinks for entertaining, so that when they have a party, they can fill the sink with ice and use it for drinks that way. Another appliance she recommends, among the grills and warming plates that she installs, is a warming drawer. “When you’re grilling, nothing cooks at the same time, so to be able to have a warming draw where you could stick the finished food into until the rest of it is finished cooking is a very practical and useful food appliance out there.”
Other aspects of outdoor living Moore sees trending are TVs and fireplaces, usually in tandem with one another. “A lot of times, people are buying the fireplaces for one reason only, and that’s to be able to have a place to mount the TV,” she says. One way she’s trying to combat making the TV the focal point was by designing a cabinet that lifts and lowers the TV behind it, so the TV is only out and visible when in use.
While the fireplaces she installs are usually gas and don’t provide heat, Moore says that since the pandemic she’s seen a dramatic increase in clients choosing to include infrared lamps in their porch to extend the use of their porch into cooler evenings and days. QR